Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Streets of Bakersfield - Take 1

Now while this post doesn't directly deal with animation, illustration, or art per se, it does discuss two other things near and dear to my heart: the cinema and Bakersfield. Ah, Bakersfield - that beacon of artistic and cultural life. For those of you unfamiliar with this veritable gem of a city nestled in the southern basin of California's San Joaquin Valley, Bakersfield is more commonly known as an en-route pit-stop to vacationers driving to Las Vegas, made famous by the likes of movies such as Arnold Schwarzenegger's The Running Man and the Kurt Russell and Robin Williams' film The Best of Times. Yes friends, this is the place I call my hometown.

But for all the snickers that the mention of Bakersfield elicits, believe it or not, this city does produce a few diamonds in the rough (anyone who's had Dewars' Peppermint Ice Milk can attest to this.) But I digress. This post represents the first of a short three-part series on Bakersfield's contributions to the world of illustration, art, and all my usual areas of interest.

I begin (I know you're thinking this should be almost over by now) by introducing to you one of the most impressive landmarks the city has to offer - Bakersfield's Majestic Fox Theater.

And it truly is majestic. The Fox, as we shall heretofore call it, was one of many Fox Theater chains to open between the 1920's and 1930's so-named for its creator bearing the same surname. The Bakersfield Fox opened in 1930 and was in operation until 1977 before it lost popularity and was forced to close its doors. It was not until over 25 years later that the city decided this landmark had to be preserved and formed the Save the Fox campaign, earning enough money to restore the theater to its original splendor.

Looking at the architecture pictured above, it's easy to see why The Fox continues to be such an icon. According to the Bakersfield Historic Preservation Commission's website (photo courtesy of their website as well), the California "Mission style" theater fused with the popular Art Deco style of the period was considered a "crowned jewel" of the entertainment world. Afterall, moving pictures were still quite new, and this elaborate theater provided one of the few sources of entertainment and community meeting places for residents of Bakersfield at that time.

The website notes that when the theater opened on Christmas Day, 1930, the first movie was opened with a Mickey Mouse Cartoon - only two years after Mickey's "birth". The cartoon was wildly popular. And with the first admission prices to The Fox being only 15 cents for children, it's easy to see why, especially during the depression, the iconic mouse became so famous. I'm willing to bet that The Fox in Bakersfield was also the home of one of some 800 Mickey Mouse Clubs that sprouted up across the country in the 1930's as well. I doubt that the staff at The Fox could shed much light on this inquiry, as I called earlier to see if the particular Mickey Mouse cartoon short that was played on opening night could be named without receiving much help. The best I can do is guess the cartoon was one of four Mickey Mouse cartoons from 1930 such as "The Gorilla Mystery" pictured above.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We had a Fox Theater in Riverside as well. It played the first showing of Gone With the Wind. I heard once that everyone walked out during the intermission because it was so gosh darn long.

When it ceased operating as a family theater someone bought it and made it into the Foxy Theater and played porn films. That lasted about 20 years then it was abandoned for quite a while. I think it is used as a church now. So sad. I wish my hometown had the will to save its treasures.